Magazine article The Spectator

It Is Time for Alastair Campbell to Go

Magazine article The Spectator

It Is Time for Alastair Campbell to Go

Article excerpt

Everybody seems to know why the government has withdrawn its complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about articles that appeared during April in this magazine, the Mail on Sunday and the London Evening Standard. The reason is that Black Rod, aka General Sir Michael Willcocks, KGB, had intimated to the Commission that he was unable to corroborate the government's version of events. His testimony would have supported the stories which had appeared in these titles alleging that civil servants acting on behalf of Tony Blair had tried to persuade Black Rod that the Prime Minister should have a bigger role in the Queen Mother's lying-in-state than had been accorded to him. Indeed, it seems that Sir Michael was ready to elaborate on what had already been published. Numerous telephone calls had been made to him. In one it was suggested that Mr Blair might walk from Downing Street to Westminster Hall to bask in the adulation of the adoring crowds.

In the face of Sir Michael's refusal to kowtow to its version of events that no such favours were sought, Downing Street had no alternative but to withdraw its complaint. A fudge was prepared by the craven Press Complaints Commission - but a fudge that could not disguise the truth, which is that the government has capitulated. It was said that all three titles now accepted that the Prime Minister had not personally been involved in the overtures made to Black Rod. Quite so; but no one had ever suggested that he had. It beggars belief that Professor Robert Pinker, the acting chairman of the Commission and a respectable academic, could have associated himself with such casuistry. But more important than that, more important even than the explanation behind the government's withdrawal, are the reasons which led to its making the complaint in the first place.

Seven weeks ago Downing Street set out to destroy the reputation of a journalist my colleague Peter Oborne - and to blacken the reputations of the three titles I have mentioned. In the scope of its ambitions it was prepared to go further than any previous government ever had. Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's director of communications, had long conceived an animus against Mr Oborne, who is his not particularly sympathetic biographer, and is known to be preparing a pamphlet about New Labour lies. Mr Campbell also nurses a particular hatred for Associated Newspapers, publisher of the government's chief tormentor, the Daily Mail, of which the Mail on Sunday and the Evening Standard are sister papers. Readers may need little persuading that he is not the greatest admirer of this magazine. He was like a hunter who miraculously finds his most detested quarries grouped together in his sights. As on many previous occasions, he turned to his old friend Roy Greenslade, media editor of the Guardian.

Loyal soul that he is, Roy obliged. In a column written for the Guardian's website, Roy suggested that Mr Oborne was `stark, staring bonkers' for suggesting that a civil servant had tried to engineer a bigger role for the Prime Minister. The story was `utterly false' and Mr Oborne was finished as a journalist. Roy then published another column in the Guardian proper. Though rude about Mr Oborne and the three titles concerned, this version was noticeably toned down. After writing his draft for the website, Roy had spoken to, among others, Peter Wright, editor of the Mail on Sunday, who had told him that the source of his own paper's story was rock-solid. (It was, in fact, Black Rod. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.